For Andrew Darlow, New Jersey-based photographer, writer, imaging consultant and editor of ImagingBuffet.com, his lifelong love of cats and dogs eventually led to a career in pet photography. In fact, pet portraiture and benefiting animal-based charity groups became his pet project.
Since 2002, Darlow’s formal and informal portraits of pets with their people have brought joy to readers of Animal Fair magazine, the Home News Tribune (New Jersey) and the AKC Gazette, the official publication of the American Kennel Club.
Darlow was first drawn to helping animals through pro bono work in 2003, when Cole Haan, one of his photography clients, asked him to cover an event at his retail store in East Hampton, New York.
“The company event was to include portraits of their customers and/or their pets,” he recalls. “I provided the photography and created a matted print for each family. Funds collected at the event were donated to an East Hampton-based no-kill shelter, Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons (arfhamptons.org), which I had learned about from a friend. I decided that the organization—ARF—was an ideal charity to support on a pro bono basis.”
That summer, Darlow donated his time to cover ARF’s annual garden tour, currently in its 30th year, as well as an evening benefit event. In the years that followed, he began donating his services for other organizations, including the Susan G. Komen Foundation and The Seeing Eye (which breeds and trains guide dogs).
“The Susan G. Komen Foundation opportunity came from my friendship with people who have helped animals in various ways,” Darlow explains. “On three occasions, I had a booth at or provided photography during the Your Dog Is Worth It Too event, celebrating dogs and fundraising for the Susan G. Komen Foundation at L’Oreal in Cranbury, New Jersey. When I had a booth, I donated portions of my book sales and photo sessions that clients reserved during the event.
One of the photos he shot at the foundation event was of Teekee, a Chihuahua, kissing a pup named Elwood, who received notoriety when he was named World’s Ugliest Dog in 2007. “This led to many opportunities for Elwood and his amazing owner, Karen Quigley, to help raise money for animal-related groups and charities,” says Darlow.
Since 2004, he has donated many of his art prints to pet-loving organizations, generating thousands of dollars for them, including an annual charity art auction benefiting Lilo’s Promise (www.lilospromise.com) and a silent auction called Annual Toast to Pets with Disabilities (petswithdisabilities.org).
“There’s a special place in my heart for Pets with Disabilities,” Darlow explains, “because of the amazing work they do to help disabled pets, either finding new homes for them or getting cared for at their location in Maryland. I met them at the Super Pet Expo (superpetexpo.com), a fantastic trade show for pet owners, held annually in New Jersey and Virginia.”
2016 Holiday Pet Portraits: A Unique Event
The weekend before Thanksgiving, Darlow helped organize the Holiday Pet Portraits with Santa event at Unique Photo in Fairfield, New Jersey—the state’s largest retail camera store and center for photography education—where he’s taught classes for the past five years. He helped write the promotional copy and rules/guidelines for the event, so customers would know exactly what they were getting for their investment. “That’s extremely important, especially when working with pets,” he says.
One pet was allowed per session; owners with multiple pets were permitted to register for up to three sessions. “We did this because as soon as multiple pets are included in a photo, the amount of time needed for a good image goes up dramatically,” Darlow explains.
“For a $25 donation, customers each chose a favorite photo from their session. The image was then prepped, printed and matted while he or she waited. Social media and print-ready digital files of those photos were given to enable customers to share their images and use them for prints and/or holiday cards. All proceeds benefited the homeless pets cared for by Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter (njshelter.org) in East Hanover, New Jersey.”
The Event Setup
“In addition to raising funds for the shelter, I wanted to give donors high-quality portraits of their pets,” says Darlow. “The ‘studio’ included a large chair, Santa, a white background lit with color gels and a Christmas tree. For those who preferred a photo without the tree and Santa, the pets were seated alone on the chair. I spent approximately a full day, from prep to finish, with the actual photo sessions occurring in about a five-hour window.”
Darlow kept his photo equipment to a minimum. He used continuous lighting in two large softboxes. This was primarily because “pets tend to move quickly and continuous light lets me use burst mode, unlike flash.”
In order to speed his workflow and send files to Unique Photo’s photo lab in seconds, Darlow connected his camera to a 13-inch MacBook Air, mounted to a photo vest, and used Adobe Lightroom’s tethering feature. “This setup was surprisingly easy to manage, and Lightroom made it simple to capture, quickly select the best images to show the client, do some minor retouching, crop and export a JPG file to a shared Dropbox folder.”
Promoting the Event
Social media contributed to the success of this project. Unique Photo sent out a promotional mailing to its database. Darlow also posted the event on his Facebook page (facebook.com/adarlow) and Twitter feed (twitter.com/andrewdarlow), which generated additional signups. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter announced the event on its Facebook page, as did friends of Darlow, all helping to increase participation.
A traditional press release by Kelly Vanasse, Kelly Communications, spread the news. This resulted in media coverage in about a dozen publications. They included East Hanover Patch, New Jersey Monthly, Daily Record and the Asbury Park Press.
For Darlow, the most rewarding part of pro bono projects is “the gratitude I receive from those who work tirelessly to help others—especially those who foster animals in their homes or find foster families as they await adoption. Hearing comments from ‘pet parents’ after they receive their photos is also very heartwarming. And when the photos I take of pets awaiting adoption actually help them find new homes, it’s especially rewarding.”
Suggestions & Recommendations
For photographers considering pro bono work, Andrew Darlow has a few suggestions. 1) Find an organization that benefits groups to which you would personally donate. 2) Only promise what you can deliver. 3) Be clear regarding what you are offering (a well-written contract is highly recommended). 4) Any work you do should be done as though you are being paid well. 5) Keep receipts for expenses (some charities offer to pay for them; sometimes you’ll be able to deduct them as a donation on your tax return).
“I also recommend that professional photographers encourage clients and prospects to join their mailing lists. They can then send information about upcoming events, charity-related or not. Be sure to use a mailing list system that lets people unsubscribe with a single click. Mailchimp.com’s service is free for the first 2,000 contacts, which saves you thousands of dollars as you grow your list.”